With Messi on the bench, Argentina faces Bolivia looking for its second win

The Argentine captain has another record in his sights: all-time record goal scorer in the South American Qualifiers

Argentina’s men’s national football team will face Bolivia this Tuesday in the second fixture of the South American Qualifiers. Despite concerns about a potential injury, the Albiceleste will have star and captain Lionel Messi on the team, albeit on the bench. 

The road to the 2026 World Cup started well enough for Argentina. An uninspired home debut against Ecuador gave them three points thanks to a Messi goal on a free kick. The defending world champions now look to improve their form at La Paz but will have to do so with the added challenge of playing in the Hernando Siles stadium, located 3,577 meters a.s.l.

Bolivia, on the other hand, is looking to make a return to the World Cup after 32 years. The new qualifier tournament format granting South American teams six direct spots plus an extra chance for a seventh team through the inter-conference playoffs represents the country’s best chance of getting back to the tournament it last played in 1994 in the United States.

La Verde, led by Argentine Gustavo Costas, lost badly in its debut with a 5-1 away loss at Brazil. To make matters worse, the home crowd isn’t exactly all behind the team.

The arrival of Argentina started a Messi-craze, with many supporting the Albiceleste over their own team. Tickets for the match sold out in record time, with the Bolivian Football Federation (FBF) announcing a record revenue of over US$1 million. On Saturday, over 600 people welcomed the Argentines when they arrived in the Bolivian capital.

The La Paz government displayed banners reading “Welcome, champions” and “Messi, you’re the greatest.” They also hired street artists to paint a mural of the greatest players in Bolivian history shaking hands with the Argentine champions.

“We saw the people support Argentina, but we’ll discuss it after the game,” said striker Marcelo Moreno Martins, Bolivia’s most capped player and La Verde’s top goalscorer. “Having our fans’ support is important, and we have to pull in the same direction because we’re stronger together. We have to stay together, we can’t split and support two teams.”

Two different groups of Bolivian fans visited the hotel where Argentina is staying. On Monday morning, a group wearing Albiceleste shirts and hats showed up chanting for Messi and looking for autographs. A second group, supporting the home side, got there in the morning hours and set off fireworks to disturb the sleeping Argentine players, a practice often used in South American football.

Messi is going after two new career highlights. If he scores, he’ll reach 30 goals to become the South American Qualifiers all-time record goal scorer. Moreover, it’ll be the first time he scores in three games in La Paz, one of the few places where La Pulga hasn’t been able to leave his mark.

However, Messi’s presence was in doubt until the very end. The Argentine captain asked to be subbed off against Ecuador, and it wasn’t confirmed that he’d travel to La Paz. Despite tests finding no injuries, the 36-year-old will come off the bench per TyC channel journalist Gastón Edul.

Argentina and Bolivia have met 41 times, with 29 wins for the Argentines, seven for Bolivia and five ties. 

The game will  start at 5:00 p.m. Argentina time, refereed by Uruguayan Esteban Ostojich. The match can be watched for free on Argentina’s national public broadcaster, TV Pública, or on the cable sports channel TyC Sports.


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